By Bill Mefford, photo by ABC News
I have to confess, writing about the character flaws of donald trump is not my favorite activity in the world. I wish we had someone in office with whom the disagreements could be more substantive. Sadly, we will never be able to get to the policy debates because the man is so terribly flawed. The normalization of trump's behavior by the media, the nation, and especially by Congress is one of my greatest fears. This is just not normal.
donald trump’s visit to Puerto Rico was so much more than rudeness or an example of bad behavior, as some pundits on TV described it. His visit reveals an especially virulent and violent kind of racism and misogyny that he has displayed relentlessly for years now, and certainly since he took office. It has not dissipated at all.
He ended up leaving the island an hour ahead of schedule and though that shows his disregard for the people and the devastation they are experiencing I am sure Puerto Ricans were ready to see him go. They have important life-saving work to do and spending time listening to him justify his administration’s pathetic and weak response to a catastrophe that has virtually wiped out this territory’s infrastructure. But the images of the few hours he spent there are indelible.
Here are a few that stand out to me:
- Perhaps most memorable is when he “congratulated” Puerto Rico for “only” having a death toll of 16 (which has now been raised to 34 and is sure to climb higher as they cannot even reach some parts of the island still). He compared the destruction in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Katrina killed people, he said, "in the thousands" (and naturally, he is wrong in his insinuation. Katrina tragically killed 1,833). Can you even imagine that in the midst of such devastation where still only 7% of the island has electricity and so many people do not have access to food or running water, you are congratulated for “only” losing 16 souls? How do you think the loved ones of those 16 people feel, being told they should feel "proud" because Puerto Rico “only” lost 16 precious children of God? How incredibly invalidating of the lives of those people.
- In the same comparison between Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Katrina (who the hell compares hurricanes like you’re sizing up restaurants?), trump further invalidated the hell that Puerto Rico is experiencing by calling Katrina a “real catastrophe.”
- Of course, then trump tells those gathered that they have thrown his budget "out of whack." Yeah, funny. I am sure their sides all still hurting from laughing so much at your lame jokes.
- It was in this same setting hat he went around the room and publicly thanked everyone except the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz. Mayor Yulin Cruz has publicly and rightly denounced the slowness of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria and has repeatedly been calling for what her city and island need. Thus, because trump cannot stand for a woman of color to be strong and stand up to his bullying and incessant narcissistic need to be fawned over, trump spent several days slamming her on Twitter. Then, when he finally is in the same room with her, he doesn’t have the balls to confront her. Instead, he acts passive aggressive and refuses to acknowledge her presence or the invaluable leadership she has showed. This is violence. Refusing to recognize someone’s presence, much less their heroic and sacrificial work on behalf of others is to deem them less than human. This is violence.
- trump also incredulously talked about what great weather Puerto Rico was having at the time. Whaaaaat??? They just got leveled by a category 5 hurricane. No one wants to think about the weather. This isn’t trump’s stupidity though; this is a complete lack of empathy and his complete invalidation of Puerto Rico’s pain.
- trump’s praise of local officials – the Governor and a local representative – was based entirely on them having made flattering statements about the administration in recent days. No one was praised for their leadership; they were praised for kissing trump’s ass. The fact that he is in a devastated area and his thoughts are focused on how he can make himself look good, calling on people to restate their previous compliments they had made of his administration is simply mind-boggling.
- Perhaps the most striking image of the three hours trump spent further devastating Puerto Rico was in the distribution center. This was where he was standing behind a table, surrounded by press and what appears to be some Puerto Ricans, and he begins to toss paper towels to various people in the small crowd as if he is tossing free t-shirts in between innings at a minor league baseball game. It is weird, to say the least. But what struck me as I watched this odd display was that he was tossing them in the same way that you shoot a basketball. It was almost as if he was getting in practice for shooting free throws, using Puerto Ricans as props for his enjoyment.
And this is a tremendous picture of trump’s worldview: people exist for his use and general amusement. Or worse, they do not exist at all. Puerto Rico suffered a “once in a lifetime” hurricane. They are enduring and need help from the federal government and from all of us. But trump’s total disregard of the people on that island and his utter incapacity to have any level of empathy for them represents a violent kind of racism that is almost as dangerous as any hurricane. I hate what Hurricane Maria did to the people of Puerto Rico. And I hate that the voters of this country have done even more damage by sending them Hurricane trump.